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There is so much to look forward to when you move: setting up a new home, a chance to purge the junk you’ve accumulated, exploring your new town – just to name a few. All of those things and more are very much the same when you’re no longer working. In fact, you’ve got more hours available each day to enjoy them! And you can make those numerous Lowe’s / Home Depot trips at times far less busy than you could if you still worked. But there’s something important that you don’t often see discussed on FIRE blogs or videos: the challenges of making connections and building friendships in a new town without a workplace as a central meeting point.
A brief review of recent history
I left my job nearly fifteen months ago and my family moved a few weeks later. Our new home is about three hours away from where we used to live. That means our friend group of more than eight years is within range for weekend visits, but of course those require planning. In addition, all of my close friends are still working full time – or even quite a bit more. That means weekdays are totally out and weekends are their main time to “get everything else done”. So our availability is totally different, which makes perfect sense. Admittedly I have a hard time remembering this sometimes when awaiting replies to my many text messages (sorry!).
A few weeks ago there was an otherwise inconsequential event in my life that started me thinking more about this topic. As we discussed on a recent episode of Two Sides of FI, I had made weekend plans with friends near our former home. For perfectly sensible reasons, my friends needed to postpone. I was really disappointed, and even more so than I’d let on to anyone involved. The change of plans made me feel like I didn’t matter as much to my friends as they did to me – which was of course a very silly and wholly irrational reaction. But the emotions I felt were very real, I assure you.
Why was this little thing so impactful? I had really looked forward to those plans, it seems. But why? Sure, it would have been fun to see friends. But we didn’t have anything monumental planned for that weekend, after all. And we’d likely all get together in just a few weeks (we did, and it was great). The answer is pretty simple: I haven’t made many friends since we moved, and I’m almost solely relying on my out-of-area friendships for that connection. There are a variety of reasons I haven’t yet made many friends in my new town, COVID being just one of them. But there’s a simpler reason well within my control, and one I just hadn’t yet realized.
Making friends for the world to see
Your place of work is not the only opportunity to make friends, of course. Many people build friendships through civic groups, clubs, or places of worship. But at least for me, my closest relationships have always come from the workplace, so it’s what I know best. There is no easier place for me to find like-minded people, and the collision factor of working in an office provides many opportunities to learn about people. From there originate the kernels of what later yields close friendships. It’s a very different beast to start from zero in a new area where you are no longer working – at least for me, anyhow.
My ever-astute wife, Lorri, pointed out something rather eye-opening to me while filming 2SFI: I hadn’t really been doing very much to make connections and build new friendships since moving. Honestly I hadn’t really thought that my inaction was such a big part of it but of course she was 100% right. People clearly weren’t lining up on our doorstep to introduce themselves and hang out with me – I have no illusions that I’m so interesting or fun to be around such that they’d want to do that. So naturally I had to be much more motivated about the whole thing. Obvious, right? Truly, it hadn’t been to me until that moment.
Current status + steps taken so far
I’m not lacking for social interaction in our new town. In fact, one of the very reasons I took the job one day a week at the winery tasting room is for that engagement with others. That goal has been achieved, and I’m really enjoying it. But it’s not likely I’ll make effective friendships from a largely tourist customer base. However, just working in wine has given me a springboard to meet others in the industry who clearly share common interests with me, and that’s been great. Lorri works part time at a brewery. As you’ve gathered, I like beer, and frequent those establishments as well. So any of these things could well yield friendships. Recently, I’ve started to more actively seek out opportunities to meet industry folks. I think I’m off to a good start and have met some great people but clearly need to keep it up.
As I wrote above, clubs are also a great place to connect with people through common interests. Both Lorri and I are 20+ year homebrewers and love engaging in activities around beer. There is no local club dedicated to homebrewing in our town, so we are starting one! After polling for interest in a few online forums, our first meeting is a week away. I’m excited for the possibilities here. In addition to hopefully making a few good friends, this is also an opportunity for me to teach, something I really enjoy. So even if I’m wrong about it being a great way to make friends, I know I’ll find benefit from starting up this organization.
Where do I go from here?
I think persistence is the name of the game for me at present. As described, I’ve taken a few smaller steps to put myself out there more and actively seek opportunities to connect with people. And I’ve met some nice people who I enjoy hanging out with. But I also know that I’m just getting started. I need to follow up on the leads I have and also seek more. There are a few people with whom I feel there could be a connection. I need figure out if that’s true or if they might just be nice acquaintances. It takes time to build good friendships, after all – and that’s OK. I certainly believe it is effort well spent.
I will certainly continue to get together with my very good friends who live out of the area – several are irreplaceable in terms of their importance to me. And I don’t want that to change! But realistically, I also need to keep seeking opportunities to make friends locally. This town is where we’ve chosen to live and at least for the foreseeable future, will remain. It just makes good sense to find a couple of good friends nearby. Wish me luck!